I've been busy this weekend so it was 1am on Monday morning when I finally looked at the CNN.com "Q&A" interview with me, titled Analyst: China Internet move part of global trend - CNN.com posted at 5:41p.m. EST Saturday January 10. I was interviewed on Friday afternoon Hong Kong/Beijing time.
According to the text, I said that Hong Kong and China are separate countries. (I wouldn't say that even when drunk!) It also had me making claims such as there's no evidence that technology used to censor sexual content is used to censor political content. It distorted and misconstrued my explanations about how censorship works. Among other things. Plus it made me seem grammatically illiterate and incoherent. Oh, and names of organizations and their URL's were wrong.
The story, posted as a Q&A interview, was done in such a way that would lead most readers to think that it's a transcript, or maybe a heavily edited transcript of a recorded interview. It was actually a liberal paraphrasing, based on the interviewer's (mis)understanding of what I said and an extrapolation of inadequate notes.
Fortunately I was able to contact a CNN.com editor who agreed to make corrections. Since a lot of what I originally said to the interviewer was badly misconstrued and there was no recording of the original interview let alone full transcript, we ended up just deleting the misconstrued sentences rather than rewriting the whole thing. So if you looked at the story a few hours ago and notice that the current version seems quite different, that's why.
The cause of the mess-up was an under-supervised and under-edited intern. I hope people won't hold it against the intern in question, many interns are just learning and don't know any better. We have all been inexperienced and in need of close supervision at some point in our lives. I feel badly that her mistake has become so public. However I find it necessary to write about this for two reasons:
First, a lot of people saw the original version between the time it was published and the time it was corrected. I want to call as much attention as possible to the fact that it's been corrected so that people out there don't think I actually believe China and Hong Kong are separate countries, among other things. It's damaging to my professional credibility.
Second, this incident is instructive for the anti-CNN people out there who believe CNN is at the forefront of a vast Western media conspiracy against China. It's not.
A lot of errors happen because editors and reporters are under pressure to churn out volumes material on short deadline with inadequate staff and funding. There is often an over-reliance on interns and lack of staff to supervise them properly. As a result, on American cable and satellite TV news outlets (I don't want to speak for other countries' TV broadcasters or for print or radio organizations without first-hand experience of them), major mistakes get made by people whose work should have been checked before going out. Photos get cropped for websites without adequate thought. Agency material gets mis-labeled as being from one country when it was actually from another. Names of leaders get mixed up. Things get mis-translated. Errors go on air or get published online before somebody notices. It happens all the time. Believe me. Ask anybody who has worked in the business. I even know of one instance in which video of Michael Jackson the pop star was erroneously put in a report involving a NATO general by the same name - a video editor was under time pressure and followed written instructions without thinking about the report's substance at all.
There's a reason why people say that news is like a sausage factory: knowing too much about how your sausage gets made makes you squeamish about consuming it.